Is There Such a Thing as a Good Fight?

fiDear Mr. Dad: My husband and I are happily married, but every once in a while we have a huge argument. There’s no violence, of course, but there is plenty of yelling and door slamming and some occasional name calling. He and I usually recover pretty quickly, but I’m concerned about the effect that our fighting might be having on our kids, who are 7 and 10. Should we be worried or will the kids get used to it?

Yes, you should be worried, and No, the kids won’t get used to it. Conflict and disagreements are a normal part of almost any relationship, but what you’re describing goes far beyond “normal.” It’s great that you and your husband aren’t violent towards each other. But research suggests that you may still be doing some serious harm to your children.

Children need to feel safe and secure in their home. However, when they see their parents engage in openly hostile conflict, they feel the exact opposite of safe and secure. Children in high-conflict homes have more emotional problems, are more aggressive, and are more likely to be depressed and/or anxious. The fear and confusion they feel as a result of long-term exposure to the stress and insecurity caused by their parents’ fighting can cause permanent damage to children’s brain, negatively affecting their memory and cognitive function and in some cases, leaving them with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress. In can also take a toll on their physical health, leaving them more likely to get sick. And again, they don’t get used to it. Ever. In fact, over time, children become sensitive to the fighting and less resilient.
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Keep on Scrapping—Just Do It Right

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been fighting a lot for the past few months. I know arguments are a pretty normal part of a relationship, but I’m concerned that our battles are starting to affect our two kids, ages 4 and 6. Both of them have been behaving differently lately—acting out, having trouble sleeping, and even squabbling between themselves much more than we used to. I can’t help but think that our arguments are rubbing off on them somehow. How can we stop our fighting and how do we reverse the damage I’m sure we’ve already done?
A: You’re absolutely right about two things: First, fighting with your spouse is perfectly normal. Frankly, I’d be pretty suspicious of any relationship that didn’t have its ups and downs. Not letting the sparks fly once in a while is a good indicator that one or both partners are feeling apathetic and would be better off apart. Second, children are extremely sensitive to the emotions of the adults around them, and the fight s they’re witnessing are almost certainly affecting your kids—probably more than you know. There’s a right way—and lots of wrong ways—to fight. Here’s what you need to know.